Run with the Bulls

The red scarf or ‘panuelo’ is a distinct element of Pamplona’s San Fermin Festival. The festival runs every year July 6-14. The entire city is a sea of red and white. During the bull run, before the rocket is launched to mark the start of the run, people tie their red scarves on their wrists.

Some wrongly believe the color red angers bulls or that red makes the bulls more aggressive. The running bulls are colorblind so you can wear whatever color you want. It’s all grey to them. Besides, during the bull run or the “encierro”, runners are not allowed to wear sashes these might hooked by a bull’s horn.

So why wear a red scarf during your run with the bulls? Is it because of what the color represents? Red is actually considered as the most emotional color, associated with a racing heart and blood surging through the body.  

But your fiesta scarf and sash aren’t just for the color. Red also has deep religious roots. According to church history, the red scarf is used to honor Pamplona’s patron saint, Fermin.  Fermin was priest sentenced to death by the Roman governor for spreading the Christianity, a crime at the time. Conflicting stories have Fermin killed by being dragged through Pamplona’s streets by bulls or burned at the stake in Amiens (France). Since his death, Fermin is now the patron saint of bull runners. All good Catholics know saints are martyrs who when faced with death defended their faith. During their martyr funerals, priests would dress them in red. Red was also worn in Pamplona around 1599 to mark the end of the plague which killed one third of Pamplona’s population. People were believed to recover after placing a red sign on the chests of the sick, representing the five wounds of Jesus during the crucifiction. City authorities saw the measure as effective, they permanently called the vow “of the Five Wounds”. The red scarf is a sign of this divinity and some say provides the protection of San Fermin.

If this is your first time joining the bull run as a spectator, it is best to watch the event at a distance, like from a balcony. Spyns provides balconies to safely watch the daily bull runs, held every morning of the festival at 8 a.m. The bull run takes place every day of the festival July 6-14.  However, always remember never to go beyond the security fence placed along the entire bull run.

As the bull runners race buy running with the bulls, touch your red panuelo to wish them good luck.